The heart symbolizes love in all forms. Over the course of the story, it comes to demonstrate the importance and power not only of romantic love, but of love for one’s fellow humans in the form of goodness and compassion. The development of the heart as a symbol begins after the Fisherman has separated from his Soul so that he can be with the Mermaid; when the Soul then begs the Fisherman not to send him out into the world without a heart, the Fisherman adamantly refuses, stating his heart is taken up with love for the Mermaid. Later, once the Fisherman and his Soul have reunited, it transpires that the Soul has become evil because he has been out in the world witnessing the cruel deeds; without a heart to help him feel compassion, he has learned to both do and love evil things and has lost his moral compass. This points to the importance of the heart as a ward against the cruelty of the world and underscores the immense positive power of love in the story. Toward the end of the tale the Fisherman gives his Soul permission to re-enter his heart, hoping that doing so will remedy the Soul’s evil nature. Yet the Soul finds that the Fisherman’s heart is so entirely taken up with love for the Mermaid that he “can find no place of entrance.” This, then, would suggest that love has the potential to not simply be a powerful force for good, but also to blind individuals to the rest of the world. Indeed, it is only when his heart breaks with despair over the Mermaid’s death that the Soul can get back inside, just as the Fisherman himself is drowning. In this way, as the heart comes to symbolize the importance of multiple kinds of love, while also suggesting that one prioritizes romantic love at their own peril.
The The Fisherman and His Soul quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Heart . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of The Fisherman and His Soul published in 2012.).
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Heart appears in The Fisherman and His Soul. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Fisherman and His Soul